Well, it's been hot here, and I've been looking forward to a chance to hang out in my bathing suit. Most places in India it's not possible, knees and shoulders should never be shown on a woman. But Kudle Beach in Gokarna was the place for me, on my Birthday too!
Unfortunately, wifi sucked there so I couldn't post or get all the well wishes from friends and family. The grid would go down often too so we sort of gave up on email and left the cyber world to itself for a few days.
Andy rented a surfboard one day and caught a few waves, and I swam in the ocean everyday! For a Montana girl that's about as much as you could wish for in January.
We are now in Hampi and I'll post more in the next few days, but I will say the place takes your breath away.
Yeah, that's Andy about 40ft off the ground going after coconuts. I think most people will forgive me for momentarily wondering what the Indian hospitals might be like.
We are at this super cool homestay on a spice plantation. The family runs it in a very permaculture-minded way, though they don't use that word. We are trekking, hoping to see wild elephants, and climbing coconut trees.
Click the YouTube link in the right hand column for the video of this crazy contraption.
So we decided to go for it and spend a few days on a houseboat gliding through the backwater canals of Kerala. We were hesitant because it was so expensive but vacation is no time to be a chicken-shit!
And it was totally worth it! We had our own personal chef (who even let me in the kitchen once or twice to watch) a captain, and an engineer who were all "at our service".
I don't think I'll ever tire of the view of Palm trees and rice paddies. India can be really intense! Trash, noise, chaos, poverty; all very much in your face. The backwaters were a blissful break from all that can be stressful about India.
The boat itself was a converted rice barge called "ketuvallam" and was a very smooth ride. 15 years ago these boats were the workhorses of the canals carrying rice, coconuts, and cashews from the villages to the ports for trade. now they mostly carry tourists. They only first started using machines to harvest rice here 3 years ago.
Something about Kerala, that we've witnessed everywhere since Munnar, is that they burn their trash. There is a bit less trash on the ground (and in the water) here than other places in India, but every couple hundred yards on any given street there is a small garbage fire. Plastic and all! It's actually horrific. And terrible to breathe. We crossed a few large lakes on the boat, and the fresh air was so welcome!
We were sad to leave the peace and solitude of the boat. And we became friends with the crew. Babu, the captain, took us to meet his family on Monroe Island. His daughter in law made us tapioca root with a chutney so spicy it burned my mouth like a drink that's too hot. Andy loved it! Babu's son is a metal roofer :-)
But all good things must come to an end. We disembarked at Kollam, and boarded the train North for Cochin. It's very touristy here (which is why I have wifi) and we are making our way to the Wayanad district in persuit of wild elephants! We will never forget the amazing beauty of life on the Keralan backwaters!
We have had an absolutely wonderful time trekking around the tea and spice plantations in the Munnar district.
The climate is perfect for our tastes, and it's been nice to spend 5 days in one place. You've got time to do laundry (there are no washing machines in India!) and settle into the rhythm of a place. Munnar is laid-back in comparison.
We've taken a fabulous cooking course, sent ourselves a package of high quality spices grown right here, and attended traditional martial arts and dance performances.
Tomorrow it's back to the hot and humid coast for some classic Keralan backwaters action!
More YouTube videos to come (as soon as I've got decent wifi) so keep checking the link to the right.
Happy New Year one and all! Pondicherry was a great place to spend the holiday. There were tons of Indian tourists, and the buz of energy in town was palpable.
The old French Quarter, where we stayed, starts with a broad promenade along the sea wall. The city has banned vehicles here from 6pm to 7:30am and everyone gets out to walk it in the cooler hours of the morning and evening.
Temps were between 85-90 during the day and didn't get much below 75 at night. Which was glorious, but also a bit of a tease since this wasn't the type of town I could go around in a bathing suit. Maybe a different seaside town in Kerala down the trail further.
There are some things you just don't eat in India. Like cheese pizza, it's just going to give you food poisoning. But Pondy is different! There is a large French population here, and many Indians speak French at home. They often tried French with us, until we bashfully informed them we were Americans (and then proceeded to feel like idiots for only speaking one language while most of them spoke 3 or 4). Anyway, the food... I had the best croissant of my life here! We ate several dilectable pasta dishes, and the best thin-crust wood-fired quatro formaggio pizza I've had since Europe! Oh and real coffee, which they call "filter coffee".
We will remember Pondicherry fondly. We enjoyed sea-front strolls, great food, and reading and people-watching from our balcony overlooking the waves of the Bay of Bengal.
It's off to the hills of Kodaikanal. Happy new year 2015 everyone!
Any notions we may have had about South India being more laid-back, cleaner, less chaotic, have been immediately dispelled.
This is full-on honk/haggle India!
Before the rain came the stench of the city was astounding. The sweet, pungent smell of rot and corruption. But now there is a cyclone off Sri Lanka so it's been raining for 2 days. I posted a video on YouTube of some photos and a tuk-tuk ride in chennai. Follow the link on the right.
Now we are in the kingdom of "backpackistan" (Mamalapurum) 2 hours south of the city, where dreadlocks reign supreme. Actually along with the hippies come these really cool rock formations, green space, and beautifully carved temples from the Pallava Kingdom like the one in this photo.
We'll probably explore here for a while before heading south to Pondicherry.
Alison B. Sweeney
Why We Travel?